Lessons learned: Former Park coach Ligtenberg coaches Saints pitchers
Kerry Ligtenberg stood in the St. Paul Saints bullpen and watched as a couple of young pitchers threw bullpen sessions.
And when each pitcher was done they’d stroll a few steps toward the second-year coach and commence a conversation about baseball, pitching and whatever else happened to come up, which would usually leading to some instruction and a few laughs.
With a baseball in his hands and a content look on his face it was clear, Ligtenberg is back in his element.
“I’m still around the game and still around the competitive part of the game, so I enjoy that,” Ligtenberg said. “I enjoy being out there every day, I enjoy having a chance to compete every day and being around the game.”
He’s back in his element after two less than comfortable years as Park’s baseball coach.
It wasn’t the most successful two years, either.
The Wolfpack went a combined 16-27 during Ligtenberg’s two-year stint atop the school’s baseball program. He said it was tough working with the younger kids and getting a grasp of where they were as baseball players.
“Looking back I guess I could have done a better job. It was a learning experience for me and I know we didn’t do as well as what I’d hoped,” he said “I did it not knowing if I wanted to do it. I just agreed to do it. I did enjoy it, but it was more or less a chance for me to decide if it was something I’d want to do down the road.”
Ligtenberg, a 1989 Park grad, said he would have liked to coach a few more years at Park, but couldn’t turn down the opportunity to work for the Saints.
At Park, Ligtenberg said coaching had to take an administrative duties such as organizing equipment, maneuvering the schedule and dealing with field maintenance.
“At Park it was trying to deal with a lot of things and I was a little bit overwhelmed at first,” he said.
With the Saints, Ligtenberg is only left to deal with the thing he knows best -- pitching.
“Here, I’m dealing with the guys day-to-day, dealing with just pitching mechanics,” he said. “That was the thing I liked, it’s just pitching. It’s something I’m a lot more comfortable with.”
It’s something he has a plethora of personal experience with.
After pitching at the University of Minnesota and earning All-Big Ten honors, Ligtenberg got his professional start with an independent league club before eventually making the climb to a Major League roster as he pitched for the Atlanta Braves.
Ligtenberg became the first Park grad to ever reach the majors when he cracked the Braves pitching staff in 1998. He recorded 30 saves and helped Atlanta reach the National League Championship Series in his rookie season.
Ligtenberg last pitched professionally in 2009 for the Saints in an attempted Major League comeback.
Ligtenberg’s big league success, and experience making his way up from the independent league, make him a credible source of knowledge for Saints’ players to interrogate.
“It makes it easy when we’re in certain situations because we can go to him and ask what he would do in that situation because he’s been there,” Saints pitcher Mikey Mehlich said. “He knows the feeling of what it’s like being under the big lights and just showing up at the park and being able to have him if you need anybody to go to, it’s a good feeling.”
One of Ligtenberg’s primary goals is helping his players get their shot with a Major League organization, something he’s already had a few players achieve under his tutelage.
“It’s satisfying when some of these kids that work hard and put the work in get a chance to play,” Ligtenberg said. “Even though we’re down here and a ways away from where you want to be, if you put a little work in and get a little luck along the way, good things can happen.”
Mehlich has had a good last couple of seasons, something for which he partially credits Ligtenberg. He said the pitching coach primarily works with him on the mental parts of the game, such as pitch selection, location and understanding weaknesses of both the batter and himself.
“The biggest thing is just getting them to be comfortable with their mechanics, being able to throw more than one pitch for strikes and locate their fastball,” Ligtenberg said. “That’s been the approach is to have fun while we’re doing it, but go out there and compete and do the best we can.”
Mehlich said he enjoys playing for Ligtenberg.
“It’s not hard to pitch under him, because he gives you the ball with confidence, he just wants you to throw strikes,” Mehlich said. “If you get the ball he knows that you can do it. He gives everybody a chance and gets everybody to do well. He doesn’t get on you if you do something bad, but he explains to you why you did something bad, I think that’s the way it should go. He’s a good coach and has been a good mentor to all of the guys on the team.”
Ligtenberg’s enjoying his time providing tips to professional talent -- guys who have a little more experience with the game.
“Being around the guys helps me stay young a little bit and hopefully we’ll do it for a couple more years,” Ligtenberg.
But for as much as Ligtenbeg is enjoying his current position, his coaching future is still in question. His primary priority is still his family, which he lives with in Eagan.
“My kids are still young and I definitely want to be with them and spend time with them here,” he said. “That’s part of the reason I like this job and this job has worked out is I’m here and I don’t travel all of the time and I get to spend a lot of time with my kids in the summer, so we’ll see. I plan to do one more year and then we’ll reevaluate after that.”